By Chris Jarvis
Hannah Clare is part of the first wave of ‘new Greens’ in the 21st century. Preceding the ‘Green surge’ of last year, these are members of the Green party, predominantly young members, who joined up some time following the Iraq war and before 2013. Many were frustrated by the drab political landscape in other parties, and by the seeming betrayal of the parties they might otherwise have supported – first the Labour Party over Iraq and subsequently the Liberal Democrats over tuition fees and the coalition government. They place political emphasis on radical social justice to compliment the strong environmental concerns of the Green Party while simultaneously acknowledging that the systematic and societal oppression of different groups of people is intrinsically linked to other political concerns. They often therefore call for an intersectional approach to tackling political issues. Over the last two years in particular, this generation of Greens has begun to have a more significant influence within the party, proposing and winning policy debates and having increased success in internal elections.
Hannah Clare is one of these people, having ascended to the position of Young Greens Co-Chair in November last year. A formidable campaigner, she has had a rapid rise up the ranks of the Young Greens – the youth wing of the Green Party, having previously co-founded Young Greens North, been instrumental in establishing the Young Greens Senate and hot off the back of representing the Green Party in the 2015 youth debates, having now been elected Co-Chair, fending off four other unsuccessful candidates.
When I spoke to Hannah, we began by discussing her vision for the Young Greens: “Given that it’s the year after the Green surge it’s about gaining and retaining more members to the party.” As Hannah mentions the Green surge, I instantly need to question the longevity of this, especially in light of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Given that Labour are now espousing many of the policy positions that the Greens have been campaigning on for many years, why aren’t people like Hannah jumping ship and getting behind a newly radicalised Labour Party? Hannah is frank in her response: “Corbyn’s election shows how relevant the Greens are, because someone who is saying the things that perhaps we didn’t get the coverage to say has [gained] a great amount of support. We’ve been consistently campaigning against trident for a number of years and also the renationalisation of the railways, and Corbyn was quite visible doing that last week. I think what makes us vital right now is we’re offering a strong and united opposition against the Tories and we’re the only party that recognises how climate change effects a lot of the issues we’re also fighting for, which I think is missing within the Labour Party’s mind.”
I push her again on this point. The criticism that has been levelled against some Greens, particularly at a local level, is that continuing to campaign actively within the Green Party, rather than getting behind what is the most progressive Labour Party we have seen for decades, will have the undesired effect of splitting the left vote at elections when so many people who may have voted Green in the past can now stomach going back to Labour and therefore letting the Tories in. “I think people are dividing the left by asking that question. I don’t think it’s true that you have to get yourself behind Jeremy Corbyn just to be fighting those issues. I still don’t necessarily have faith in the Labour Party that they can deliver these things. I think that some of the divisions they’ve shown in the past couple of weeks show that the Labour Party is still fighting within itself.”
I still don’t necessarily have faith in the Labour Party
that they can deliver these things.
Hannah is keen to demonstrate that the Labour Party is divided, and it is undoubtedly so, particularly on issues of defence and foreign policy, while simultaneously attempting to emphasise how united the Greens are. But divisions are not unique to Labour, and whether it is on cuts implemented by Green led Brighton & Hove Council or the transphobic comments made by 2015 parliamentary candidate for Cambridge Rupert Read, there have been some messy and unpleasant and public splits between members of the party in recent years. When I ask Hannah on this, the first thing she does is to reiterate that Labour are, in fact, much more divided: “It’s actually remarkable how united the party is on a number of issues. When you compare us to Labour and the stuff that’s been happening recently with all these MPs resigning – just before you called I saw an article with a couple of other Shadow Cabinet ministers saying they were going to resign. Disagreements are inevitable and I think one of the great things for us is that because we’re so democratic within ourselves everyone has a right to vote [on] what they think we should be fighting for. I think divisions have come to light because members have stood up, rightly in my view, against things within the party that are seen as problematic and for the most part they have been listened to.”
On this last point, Hannah touches on tensions that have emerged within the party in recent years around the specific issues of liberation and intersectionality that I referred to earlier as being central to this new generation of greens’ political outlook. Internal debates have recently become polarised and the Young Greens have become scapegoated for this, in a similar way to how Green Left have been in the past. I ask Hannah if she thinks criticisms levelled against the Young Greens are fair. “No, I don’t think they are at all and I think it’s a misunderstanding perhaps on both sides. I think perhaps Young Greens could be doing more to stop these divisions occurring. I’m sure I’ve been quite complicit in terms of aggravating a lot of people. But I also don’t think members of the Green Party seem to recognise how strong the activists who are Young Greens [are] and the experience these Young Greens have. I’ve been campaigning for over 10 years – I was a member youth parliament for when I was 13, and I think people look at me and say “well, what do you know? You’re only 22.” Well actually, I’ve spent a large amount of time and perhaps more time than other members of the party who are older campaigning for these issues that I’m passionate about and I think it’s a misunderstanding that perhaps needs to stop.” Understandably, Hannah is keen to downplay these divisions, particularly in a public forum.
As Hannah seeks to emphasise the places where the Greens are united and Labour are divided, it is perhaps particularly pertinent what her stance is on the relationship between these two parties. In recent weeks there have been discussions around the desirability of an electoral pact between the Greens and Labour with Bright Green publishing pieces both in favour of and against the proposal. “At the moment it’s hypothetical when the election is a long way off. I think it’s something we’d have to look at closer the election in 2020. But I think it’s clear that progressive parties will need to work together to fight the Tories. I would be worried about what Labour would want us to give up if we were to have a pact because a lot of the seats that perhaps we would fight for, I think Labour would want, so it would have to be a conversation. I wouldn’t say no, but I also wouldn’t definitely say yes.”
This response highlights an interesting trend within the Greens that would seek to move our political system to more consensual, pluralistic territory and away from the confrontational and sectarian politics that we are so used to. Despite her previous criticisms of the Labour Party, she does not rule out working directly with them, recognising the potential advantages of blocking more reactionary parties taking office. Highlighting this further is her quick response, without a second’s hesitation to my question of what single policy change would she make, were she given the opportunity to – “proportional representation.” Why?: “It’s really important in terms of influencing every other policy that could occur in future because you change the diversity of views that come into our parliament.”
Constitutional issues are at the forefront of Hannah’s political agenda. When asked what the biggest political issue at the moment is, she plumps for the forthcoming EU referendum – “It’s a huge vote for our generation and people have their first chance in 40 years to have their say on whether we should be part of the EU and I think being part of Europe gives young people in Britain and students a real freedom and I hope that’s recognised going forward.” In conversation on the European Union and the referendum, she criticises those on the left who are toying with the idea of campaigning and voting to leave: “The EU is far from perfect but it is very obvious in order to tackle really urgent problems, we do need the EU. The EU does a lot of work in terms of fighting climate change. I also think the refugee crisis is very clear we need the European Union. We need to be working across borders and the EU has some real potential to do that. I think that saying no to the EU could have a detrimental effect on these issues. And with any institution that’s political, there’s always going to be problems with it, I think we just need to be that voice that’s fighting for a more radical and newer Europe.”
I think we’re going to be gaining seats.
The referendum isn’t the only time voters will go to the polls in coming months. In May, elections will take place for councils across the country as well as in devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and London. Few commentators have yet speculated on the fortunes of the Greens in those elections, with the Khan vs. Goldsmith showdown and the SNP insurgency overshadowing the more granular aspects of the elections. I ask Hannah what she sees as the chance of the Greens in those elections and what she would see as a measure of success: “Well, obviously the assembly elections are proportional, so people have a real chance to vote for what they believe in and with that in mind, I anticipate that the Greens are going to have some great successes. We’ve got some fantastic candidates standing that I think will inspire people, from Amelia Womack in Wales to Sian Berry in London. We’ve also got a lot of important council elections and there are a lot of great Young Greens that are standing [and] the Liverpool mayoral election, so there’s some key areas and I think we’re going to be gaining seats.”
Finishing up, I have one final question for Hannah – asking about her future within the party. Given her long standing activism within the party on a national level, where does she herself in the future and could she see herself standing for Leader or Deputy Leader in years to come. Amusingly, she responds “Not next year! I’m not standing against Natalie Bennett.”
And that final response sums up the conversation. Hannah is slick and professional, while remaining personable and embracing the radicalism of youth. She has learnt the tricks of politics; of half-answered questions, of ensuring you push the messages that you want to get pushed, while not having the robotic lifelessness that has infected so many of our political leaders’ interviewing technique. Over the course of the next year, Hannah’s skills will be tested in her first major national role with the Green Party. The future seems bright for her, with many years of involvement in the upper echelons of the party to follow.
This interview is part of a new Norwich Radical series looking at the Young People influencing British politics.